When I’m stressed, I recite scripture or count. I had already exhausted my childhood Bible verses. Now, I was counting. At first I couldn’t remember what came after the number 20. When I got my second wind, I was able to remember the number 21 and the number 22, but I was in brain freeze mode. I couldn’t get any further than that.
I was drenched even before the race began. But that was OK. I was at least mentally prepared for the humidity, because our family had just come off of a road trip to Elm Grove, Texas, (that’s 76 miles outside of Houston).
However, I had convinced myself that 1,070 miles of highway driving trumped running in the annual E.G. Plummer 3K fundraiser. Plus, I had not trained properly, except for a couple of early morning walks in the 100-degree Texas heat.
When I pulled off of the highway into Danville, my gut kept nagging me that it was my daughter’s senior year at Danville High School and possibly my last year to run the E.G. My head shouted, “Get serious! Who are you kidding? You are not prepared. You will just embarrass yourself. Come on, woman! Where is your sense of pride?”
My heart whispered, “But where is your sense of loyalty to a mechanism that tooled and schooled your family in a way no other mechanism in the education system could or would? Where is your loyalty to a mechanism by which your family learned about heart, staying power, discipline, team spirit and unity. A mechanism that taught leadership and about taking one for the Gipper, that taught about task to completion. A mechanism that was a lifetime tool that taught just plain ol’ good sportsmanship, and taught not only how to win with humility but even better yet — how to lose with dignity and grace.”
Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-two, twenty-two. What comes after 22?
Aw man, I had to begin again ... one, two, three, four ... five ... suddenly, up ahead, I saw a father with his son, who was probably around 8 or 10 years old, running while holding hands. They stopped running and then walked. They were still holding hands.
I was “jalking,” my version of jogging and walking. As I got closer, I overheard the father use phrases like “back when ... ” and “last time ... ” and “remember that ... ” They were having a wonderful father/son dialogue.
Whew, finally there on the finely manicured grass I saw, neatly written, the one mile mark. “Thirteen minutes and 37 seconds,” the time keeper shouted. Then the most beautiful thing happened. The father used that opportunity to give his son a math lesson on how long it would take them before they reached the finish line.
I was fully aware that the E.G. Plummer race did many things. But I had never thought about the husbands and wives who ran together and the family units who ran as part of a family tradition. As I observed the pair, I inventoried that it had probably been at least 49 years since I witnessed a father and a son holding hands. The last time was probably when my baby brother was two and learning to walk. My brother is now 51 years old, and my father is 72.
“Three miles at 13 minutes each,” said the father continuing to hold his son’s hand. “That would be?” The father waited patiently. I felt a gush of sweat pour down the small of my back. I couldn’t hear the young boy respond. I was too busy huffing and puffing.
But as I watched the father and son run while looking at each other, my heart said 13 minutes times 3 miles equals the love between a father and a son.
Twenty-three! That’s what comes after twenty-two. And I started to “jalk” just a tiny bit faster.
Yolantha Pace, a Danville artist, educator and missionary, is an occasional contributor to The Advocate-Messenger.